How to protect your computer online against viruses and spyware

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Computer Virus Prevention

How to Protect Against Computer Viruses

It's an old adage that prevention is the best cure. Rather than wait for a virus to sneak in and infect your computer, take steps now to protect your computer system from being infected by a computer virus.

What is a Computer Virus?

Put simply, a computer virus is a disruptive computer code, period! It's a small computer program designed to disrupt your computer operations, spy on you, or even try to hijack the control of your computer.

A computer virus almost always replicates (copies) itself and spreads by attaching itself to other files. That is why many computer viruses come in an email attachment. Viruses can be made to host a number of harmful things on any computer from disrupting files to crashing networks. It can even be laying dormant, without you knowing it's there and then attack when least expected, like right in the middle of downloading a large file or typing a long report.

It can even be made to open at a certain date, sitting like a timebomb until its time arrives. As you can see it can be annoying at the very least. And very dangerous and costly sometime.

But the purpose of this article is not to go into all the different types of computer viruses. There are so many being made everyday in some dank basement or often someone's living room, by some dark, ill-intended, or even respectfully-looking characters, out to do a mischief, steal your identity, or even "rob you blind".

Steps to Take for Computer Virus Prevention

Fortunately, like with any disease, even if it's an electronic computer disease, there are some practical steps that you can take now and learn how to protect against computer viruses. Here are two basic and very important steps.

1. Never open an email attachment from an unknown person

Many viruses came from unknowingly opening emails with an attachment. This usually happens when you get an email from an unknown person with an attachment, with an attachment with an officially-sounding, or otherwise tempting name. Never open e-mail attachments unless you know for sure who it's from and that it's safe.

Some mail programs will even ask if you trust the attachment and if you’re sure this you want to do. Your computer software can also scan attachments for viruses. Follow a safe approach - when in doubt, leave out.

The danger is that when the attachment is opened the virus can attach itself to your hard drive and damage files. Not only that, it can search your saved e-mail addresses and send itself out to your friends, business partners and whoever is on the list, masking the message to look like a legitimate one from you. It will probably have an attachment too and when opened will infect other computers. Likewise, watch for unusual messages from your friends - they too can catch a virus, which then proceeds sending itself via their e-mail list.

2. Never download music, videos, images or other files from unknown sites

Many people like to download music, video, games or other programs from different sites. If it is a site you dealt with before and trust it may be safe, that's fine. But if you’re not sure you can always run a virus scan on the download before installation. (You will need to check the anti-virus program that came with your system on procedures).

This security measure is necessary because some downloads may contain viruses, spyware or adware – these last two can collect personal information, note your browsing habits and spam your e-mail with unwanted ads. Some software sites will offer a readme file that shows technical information on the download (if you like tech talk) as well as contact info.

The reputable sites that offer downloads will test and scan all there software programs before going online with it. As a last resort you can do an internet search for reviews on that particular company to see if others got burned.

This may sound scary to some but the fact is in this world anyone who owns a computer will have to look over there shoulders for hidden attacks when working online. And in particular when downloading just about any files.

7 Steps to Take to Protect Your Computer Against Viruses

That said there are some things should do to prevent viruses from attacking your computer, before your catch a virus:

1. Download the latest virus definition lists

These are files that tell your computer what to scan for, used for your anti-virus program. Normally all anitvirus programs, including free ones, will have this set up on automatic by default. In other words, your antivirus program will automatically update these files every day. 

2. Make sure your internet service provider uses antivirus protection

Check to see if your internet service provider has tools to stop viruses before they can reach your mailbox. This is particularly important if you're using the likes of Outlook Express for your personal emails. Most internet service providers these days will have antivirus programs set up to protect your mailbox automatically. Still, extra caution won't go astray. 

3. Back up your computer files and data

Always back-up your computer on CD-R or DVD-R disks or other media in case you loose some or all your data. This is particularly important for the files you keep in your My Documents or similar folder. All personal and especially business or professional files should be regularly backed up. It can only take one nasty computer virus to send down the drain days and weeks of your hard work. 

4. Always scan new computer programs before installing them

You can scan computer software for viruses before installing it. This particularly applies when you download freeware or shareware from untested sources. Check your antivirus program settings and select individual files scan options. 

5. Check your security settings

Set your security settings at the highest level. Go to your Control Panel (if you're using Windows) and click on Security Center to access your security settings. 

6. Check your web browser settings

In Internet Explorer check your browser settings under Safety tab on your toolbar. In Firefox open Tools and click on Options on display menu, to access different privacy settings. 

7. Check your email settings

How you do this will depend on what online or offline email providers you use. Each email provider has security and privacy settings - make an effort to find where they are and check them out. Usually by default those will be set up with a good level of privacy and security. But if you know more and better, adjust them to suit your desited level of privacy and security. 

Make the point of doing the above steps regularly and you will quickly learn how to protect your computer against viruses. Don't wait until you catch one and start panicking on how to get rid off it. Practice computer virus prevention as a normal routine and you will find yourself spending more time doing what you like on your computer, instead of trying to save it from a virus.

Computer Virus Articles:

  • Antivirus Programs Tips - When choosing antivirus software for your new or old computer, there are some basics that you should know before you decide on what antivirus program to download and install on your computer system. 
  • Computer Virus Prevention - Simple and practical steps will help you protect your computer against viruses by preventing your system from being infected by a virus. 
  • Computer Virus Protection - What is a computer virus and how to best protect your computer system from viruses and other online threats. 
  • Computer Viruses and Worms - While many computer viruses are just designed to annoy us, some can cause serious computer damage. This particularly applies to worms, which are usually amongst most destructive viruses. See the list of more destructive worms and trojans, and what they can do to your computer.  
  • Fighting Computer Viruses - Antivirus programs generally keep pace with current virus threats. But instead of only relying on those programs doing their job, take some simple steps to protect your computer and avoid getting infected by a virus.  
  • Avast Antivirus Program - One of the best free antivirus programs is Avast Antivirus. If you're not already familiar with this program, read our review of this easy to use antivirus program and how to use it.  
  • Norton Antivirus Program - Who hasn't yeat heard of Symantec's Norton Antivirus!? One of the most reliable, paid antivirus programs is easy to use and provides a good all-round protection for your computer.  
  • Trojan Horse - Even if you're an occasional computer user, no doubt you know about trojan horses and the threat they can pose to your computer. Often masquerading as a harmless application, trojan horse can be a destructive program. 
  • Zone Alarm - One of the internet security programs that should be on your computer as part of online protection. Available both in free and paid version, Zone Alarm monitors your online traffic and acts as a firewall, to protect your computer against malware threats.